The psychology of social justice in political thought and action

Tobias Rothmund, Julia C. Becker, John T. Jost

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Psychological research at the intersection of social justice and political behavior is part of the vibrant, growing field of political psychology. The present chapter addresses this research and focuses especially on justice-related thoughts, feelings, and actions of political laypersons. We highlight three lines of research that link laypersons’ evaluations of distributive and procedural injustice with political attitudes and behavior. First, political science and psychology provide evidence that beliefs about social justice reflect key elements in political ideologies. For example, conservatives (a) are less likely to prioritize issues of fairness and social justice when making moral judgments, (b) are more likely to evaluate distributive justice in terms of principles of merit than equality, and (c) more readily interpret requests for public support on behalf of disadvantaged groups as undeserved, in comparison to liberals. These findings are discussed in regard to psychological theories linking political ideology with motivated social cognition. Second, we outline how perceived procedural justice and perceived political legitimacy are related and mutually affect each other. The more political authorities are seen as reigning in line with criteria of procedural justice, the more they are perceived as trustworthy, legitimate, and entitled to lead. Third, we outline how justice perceptions relate to protest intentions and behavior. Whereas perceived social injustice provides a strong motivation to participate in political protest, we also address the question of why people frequently fail to protest against sources of disadvantage and deprivation. In the final part of the chapter, we suggest avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHandbook of Social Justice Theory and Research
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781493932160
ISBN (Print)9781493932153
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Distributive justice
  • Political ideology
  • Political legitimacy
  • Procedural justice
  • Protest behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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